Fred Manas is a rancher, in the fullest sense of the term. He grows and harvests good things to eat: a variety of fruits on 60 acres around Esparto, almost all of it sold on the premises, and Angus-Hereford cattle run in the fields and foothills of Napa and Yolo counties, which is processed and sold at his namesake meat market near town. He wears what suits him: jeans with a large tarnished buckle, stripped shirt with two pockets, cowboy boots that haven’t been polished since he bought them, and a hat no one else in the world could get away with wearing.
Fred Manas is a rancher, in the fullest sense of the term. He is friendly, convivial, warm-hearted, generous. He is intelligent, focused, hard-working, genuine. There is no one who does not like him, and he is widely admired.
Fred Manas is a descendant of a cattle ranching and farming family originally from Spain that settled in Western Yolo County in the late 19th Century. He grew up on the land; as such owns a handsomely weathered face and an absolute ease in his manner.
Oddly enough, his wife of more than 30 years, Alice, grew up in Los Angeles. “She’d never even seen a ranch until she met me,” Fred says. Asked how he convinced her to take up the rural life with him, Fred suppresses a grin and says, “Charm, I guess.”
“The Best Peaches in the West”
The road onto the ranch is dirt and gravel; a sign encourages you to drive slow so as not to kick up dust onto the peach trees all around. You enter a small warehouse store, where you can sample whatever is fresh and available – peaches, apricots, cherries, and apples depending on the time of year. Manas grows a variety of white and yellow peaches, and they are his specialty. Sunset Magazine described them as “The Best Peaches in the West.” “We’re probably best known for our O’Henry peaches,” Fred says. All told, the ranch has 60 acres and thousands of trees.
Fred’s harvest runs from early June to late September. You can also taste the many jams they produce here (Alice makes them all on weekends, using a recipe from Fred’s mother) as well as look through a large window as peaches are sorted, graded and packed; the grader is a spot he occupies often, his blue eyes expertly judging the fruit, his strong hands working with quickness and delicacy.
Fred and Alice bought the property from his parents in 1980. Once they started getting yields, they sold peaches off of the patio, under a big pecan tree in the shade by their house, with help from family members. Today most of the fruit is still sold right there at the store. Alice maintains a mailing list of more than 5,000 names, and as crops come available, people drive out to pick up their orders. Some are shipped to customers out of state: New York, Florida, even Alaska. “Some folks even plan their vacation based on when a certain variety will be ripe,” he says, “so we get to have friends visit us from all over the country.”
Nearly every day, 800 to 1,000 pounds of peaches are sold through the store in 5-, 10- and 20-pound boxes. You can buy all three grades: first and second quality, and soft, which are too soft to pack but excellent for jam or cooking.
Manas Meats – Dry-Aged and Delicious
But this is also a processing plant—as a U.S. Department of Agriculture-inspected plant, the 4,000-square-foot market can take cattle, pig, and other animal carcasses and cut them up into steaks, fillets and sausages before wrapping the cuts and selling them to the public.
“We have a lot of organic growers just in the Capay Valley alone who go to farmers markets with their animals,” says Fred. “We all had an interest in having a local USDA processing facility to cut and wrap organic meat to be able to sell there. We fill that need. We’re actually the only USDA-inspected facility within 100 miles.”
This all further illustrates Fred’s sage entrepreneurial spirit. For many years, much of the livestock grown and raised in Yolo County had been shipped outside the county to be processed, as far away as Orland or as far south as Turlock. Opened 5 years ago, Manas Meats enables local growers to have their meats processed and sold locally (saving on shipping costs, among other things).
For his part, Manas raises Angus-Hereford grain-finished cows without hormones or antibiotics on some 2,000 acres in Napa and Yolo Counties. “Just like our fruit, we like to sell our meat directly to customers,” he says. “We dry-age our beef 21 to 28 days. We can also ship our meat anywhere in the U.S.”
The display cases house rib-eyes, T-bones, tri-tip, loins and other cuts of beef, complemented by sausages, salami, pastrami, and other specialty items all made right on the premises. Pork and lamb products are also for sale from other local ranches. Behind the display case, a large window looks into the butcher shop; you can watch as sides of beef are processed.
Every Thursday, Manas breaks out the barbeque and grills hamburgers for lunch, served on buns also freshly baked on-site. “We get started at about 10:45 in the morning, and we don’t quit until everything is gone by about 1:30, and I do mean everything is gone,” he says. The store is also the location for the occasional car show or live music performance, “something to pull folks off the road for a few minutes and see what we have here.”
So pull off to visit the ranch and the market both. Chances are you will encounter this colorful man and hear a few interesting stories. You should drive away with something delicious to eat but perhaps more importantly, you’ll feel cheered by the friend you just made.
Manas Ranch is at 25838 County Road 21A in Esparto; (530) 787-3228. For more information, visit www.manasranch.com.
Manas Meats is at 26797 State Highway 16 in Esparto; (530) 787-1740. For more information, visit www.manasmeats.com.